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Monday, August 9, 2010

Where Chasse Cops Went Wrong—The Pursuit

Posted by Stefan Kamph on Mon, Aug 9, 2010 at 11:41 AM

Among the many documents released from a protective order surrounding the James Chasse case are a training division report, which finds the officers at fault for chasing and taking down Chasse, and a memo from North Precinct Commander Donna Henderson, which refutes this analysis and says the officers acted properly.

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  • Jamie Marquez

The training division report, filed in Fall 2007, focuses on the police bureau's Foot Pursuit Policy, which had last been updated in July 2006. It finds fault with Officer Chris Humphrey's decision to pursue Chasse, and then to knock him down.

Humphreys said he used a number of factors to decide to pursue Chasse, including the belief that he was urinating in public, that he might have an outstanding arrest warrant (though there was no evidence of this), that he possibly had illegal drugs, that he might have a weapon, and that he turned to the officers with "a look of sheer terror." The report's conclusion:

Although the belief that Mr. Chasse had urinated in public may be reason enough to contact him on the street, initiating the foot pursuit and deploying the knock-down technique... is in-consistent with the Training Division's Tactical Doctrine.

More after the jump.

The Foot Pursuit Policy warns against chasing a suspect unless it's absolutely necessary, in part because it's likely to initiate a "predator-prey" instinct in both parties: "Many times, officers chase individuals who run for no reason, and the officer doesn't know why he is chasing someone until he catches him."

The policy outlines the decisions an officer needs to make on the fly:

Risk to public safety versus benefit of capture is an issue that should be part of an officer's thinking at the onset of a foot pursuit. Factors such as severity of the crime, environment, availability of additional officers, are just a few of the considerations that should be part of the officer(s) evaluation.

Commander Henderson's response to the report argues that Humphreys was right to pursue Chasse because he noticed suspicious behavior, and had a "pretext" to stop him based on the assumption that he was urinating. Henderson notes that urinating in the street is a common sight for officers, and isn't itself reason to aggressively pursue a subject. However, if he was urinating, he was probably exposing himself in the process.

Officer Humphreys reasonably believed that a crime was committed (14A.40.030 Indecent Exposure: It is unlawful for any person to expose his or her genitalia...).

In other words, by the commander's logic: Chasse might have been peeing, so his genitalia may have been exposed in public, so by the law of "pretext stops" Humphreys was allowed to apprehend him, which he wanted to do because he thought Chasse was drunk, on drugs, possibly armed, etc.

Accordingly, the letters of discipline sent to Humphreys and Sergeant Kyle Nice on February 2, 2010 find them at fault for failing to have Chasse transported from the scene by ambulance, but not for deciding to aggressively pursue him. When the Los Angeles-based OIR Group prepared its audit of the case this year, it had this to say about Henderson's opinion:

The opinion conveyed in the memo from the Transit Division Commander—that discipline for the officer's decision to pursue would be inappropriate because the officer was taking the kind of proactive, aggressive police action his supervisors at Transit encouraged—apparently trumped the Training Division analysis and carried the day with the [Use of Force Review] Board.

More on the decision to take Chasse down to the ground, in a later post.

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